The story of the municipality of Veenendaal
Municipal services can be modern: Chatbot Bo is an innovative approach for residents to find answers online
Veenendaal isn’t waiting in the wings when it comes to innovative communication. Inge Lucas is an online interaction specialist, responsible for service and customer support in the township of Veenendaal in the Netherlands. Inge’s made it possible for her municipality to leverage the power of chatbots, and in doing so has herself become an expert. Where Chatbot Bo was once just a twinkle in her eye, Bo now handles over 700 conversations in a month, powered by Watermelon. Discover how Chatbot Bo has become an innovative digital communication tool for both residents and employees of the municipality of Veenendaal.
Modern, involved and entrepreneurial: these are the core tenets of Veenendaal’s municipal services. Building on progressive approaches to education with campus partnerships in ICT, Inge and the municipality wanted to make it easier for residents to interact with the website. Despite a global pandemic changing the norms for how we work and live, Inge Lucas just launched a wonderfully helpful chatbot named Bo.
Prioritizing information discovery
The municipality of Veenendaal conduct research annually on how visitors use the website. The results sparked Inge’s deep dive into the potential impact of chatbots: “We saw website visitors needlessly switching channels. They sought phone contact, while the answers they were looking for were available on the website. How and where we provided information to our website visitors was in need of improvement.”
“Watermelon is so easy to use, we could start building our chatbot right away. The service from the Watermelon team helped folks who thought they needed a “for dummies” guide to become experts!“
Custom build or chatbot platform?
The first step? Making the ‘Contact Us’ page more visible, and easier to read. That got more people to the page, but there was still more to do. “You should be able to find what you’re looking for immediately,” says Inge. The municipality of Veenendaal team got introduced to Watermelon at a local event and then really started considering the advantages of a chatbot. “We consulted several providers, but Watermelon came out on top. The ‘custom build’ offered by many vendors had downsides, especially when thinking about a future-proof chatbot. We knew having a chatbot would be an ongoing project that wouldn’t stop after the launch date. Watermelon allowed us to get started building a chatbot immediately, we saw results immediately, and retained control over the process the entire time.”
Thinking about who Bo would be, and could be, gave the team a ton of energy, says Inge: “People know my colleague Boudewijn. He’s a friendly, happy face that people recognize and look to for advice. We wanted Bo to provide a similar ‘warm fuzzy’ feeling. Since Bo can be any gender, it helps everyone, regardless of their own personal gender identification, feel comfortable chatting.” Chatbot Bo was named by Computable as the Netherlands’ first gender-neutral chatbot.
Month to go live
conversations every month
Conversational, or just the facts?
The challenge of building the chatbot wasn’t the Watermelon platform, but how to think about the structure of conversations overall. “The team of experts at Watermelon, specifically Sven (Customer Onboarding Specialist) and Elmer (Customer Success Manager), were essential in designing our conversation flows. Watermelon is perfectly suited to working from home. Together with my colleague Boudewijn, we worked out the design of our chatbot’s interaction and could start training it right away. The collaboration meant Chatbot Bo was ready to launch within a month. But first we tested, which gave us additional feedback on our conversational design. Sometimes FAQ’s or paths were too long or complicated. The power of a chatbot is in the simplicity of the chatbot. We strove to be concise, but informative. The goal of launching Chatbot Bo was to give our residents answers to the questions they come to us asking.”
The municipality of Veenendaal is progressive in leveraging technology to improve communication and service, and now with Watermelon continue to innovate solutions. Inge: “We follow tech developments closely, and a chatbot is a part of how innovative municipalities should provide service in 2020. The advantages are clear: it’s an easy way for website visitors to get in touch with the municipality, and they immediately can find what they’re looking for!”
Over 700 visitors helped every month!
But can website visitors now find what they’re looking for more efficiently? “The number of conversations Bo has every month continues to grow. People are getting what they need and then coming back for more – mission accomplished. Last month Bo had 700 conversations, and volume is trending upward. The next step is implementing live chat for the Customer Contact Center. Watermelon made it possible for us to build and run our own custom chatbot. The software is very easy to use, even for a “chatbot dummy” like I once was! That in combination with the fantastic service from the Watermelon Success team means we’re delighted to have Bo continue to grow into a role as a digital colleague at the municipality of Veenendaal.”
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